I challenge you to think through the daily routines on a sow farm. Sometimes these activities are so ingrained that we never stop to think about it. If semen is not delivered as expected, what kind of panic does it cause? What effect does this have on the sow farm production? As an owner, manager, and/or employee it is so important to take the time to reflect on what is going on and how to better improve productivity. In this article, I want to highlight some areas to focus on, which will hopefully keep conception and farrowing rates up and non-productive days low.
Where do we start? There are so many important factors and we will not be able to cover them all in this newsletter. First evaluate the records and your herd. What is your average parity and what does your parity structure look like? Cull rates, gilt entries, and sow deaths all play into this. Not to mention the unforeseen event of a disease entry and subsequent clean up management/plan.
Many times it is taken for granted how gilts are handled in sow units. I hope this is not the case for you and that you have a gilt entry plan written up that includes, acclimation to pathogens that are present on the farm, vaccination protocol, solid heat-no-service program, and have done your homework on genetics. Gilts are the future of the herd and if they are not handled correctly it can cause significant loss. When farms do a poor job of retaining young parity females, a higher number of gilts must be brought in to replace losses. This causes the herd’s average parity to decrease, which can lead to issues like, lower birth weights and lower colostrum protection in P1 litters. Gilt litters generally have lower birth weights; leading to higher pre-weaning mortality and lower weaning weights. Typically, gilt litters will have a higher incidence of scours.
Furthermore, if a herd’s average age is low, there is an additional cost of replacement gilts. A female typically does not pay for herself until her second or third litter is weaned depending on gilt costs, feed costs, productivity and piglet purchase price. Female retention should look something like the following:
Now that we have the gilts on the farm and our parity structure is where we would like, let’s look at the number one cost on a farm…feed. How does feed intake affect overall production? As veterinarians, we always look carefully at body condition during herd visits. So what are we trying to put together in our minds? In this newsletter, I will focus on lactation intake and its overall effect. First thing to remember is that reproduction is a biological luxury and will only be optimized when maintenance nutritional requirements are met. A highly productive sow is largely the result of the first lactation management, in terms of feed intake and number/quality of the piglets nursed. Challenge the P1 female with 13-14 strong piglets to properly develop and stimulate all mammary glands. Make sure that the sow has that many functional teats available to the piglets. In general, systems that have a higher lactation intake tend to be more productive than systems with lower lactation feed intake. In other words, feed = milk. Make sure water flow rate is no less than ½ gal/min. Sows should drink > 5 gal/day. Have farrowing room employees monitor gilts as they may not be used to where the waterer is and will need to be shown a couple times a day.
Sows should be getting up at least once daily during feeding and monitored for any signs of illness. Lower or depressed feed intake can be one of the first signs of an issue. Sows that are not eating properly should have their temperature taken to check for infectious disease, their environment should be investigated: is it too warm, water is available, feed is palatable, feeder is clean, etc.
There are many areas on the farm that can impact reproduction performance and I was only able to highlight a few here. Please take some time to evaluate how your conception and farrowing rates are and what may be causing this. Always remember that you are part of a team on the farm and have a large impact on that farms’ success. How can you help improve it?